President Adama Barrow declared: “My government will ensure that justice is done”, when he received the TRRC report at State House in Banjul last Thursday.
However, a close look at his statement delivered on the occasion shows that he is more fixated on promoting ‘reconciliation’, than “ensuring that justice is done” and seen to be done.
Citing the “Gacaca Courts” in Rwanda, he said, “despite the genocide, the people have reconciled their differences, and are now working together to develop their country.”
“Realising that they could not undo the past, the Rwandese factions that killed and maimed one another’s families knew that the right thing to do was to bury the hatchet, and work together to build a better future as one people. We have a lot to learn from that experience,” he continued.
Then Barrow added: “Although we have decided as a country to unearth the truth, our desire is to create a path for healing and reconciliation, with the goal of co-existing peacefully as Gambians.
“I am certain that, if we choose to do so, we can live together in peace and harmony, without any form of injustice, and nurture our young democracy in a stable nation where the rule of law prevails in the best interest of our country.”
Well, at the international forum “From Truth to Justice – The Implementation of TRRC Recommendations on Prosecutions” held in Banjul recently, and organized by civil society organizations, the question was asked:
“After that (that is, the TRRC truth-seeking process) what do we do about ‘persons who bear the most responsibility?’”
It was noted that there was talk of reconciliation in The Gambia (in government circles); and, it was further asked at the forum: “Would it mean reconciliation without accountability and justice?”
Among the panelists at the forum was a senior Gambian legal practitioner and human rights lawyer.
The rights advocate spoke of the importance of accountability, and said it simply means bringing people to account; holding people to account. The legal luminary also asked:
“After the truth (is unearthed and known) – then what next?”
Accountability is taking suspects through the procedures of accounting for their actions.
Moreover, the UN recommends that a state has a responsibility to: a) bring the perpetrators to account; b) the accused have to answer to allegations; c) and court judgments must be enforced, according to this panelist.
Participants were reminded that “for 22 years there was a brutal regime which committed crimes against the Gambian people, ranging from torture to murder.
“Victims were left traumatized and expecting justice and reparations”; and, it is now hoped that after the submission of the TRRC report, there will be justice.
This Gambian human rights lawyer believes that there will be prosecutions of the perpetrators, when the TRRC recommendations are made public.
It was pointed out that more than 300 testimonies were heard by the TRRC, “and the victims want justice after they suffered.”
“They do not understand why it has taken so long; they want justice done and seen to be done.”
In fact, according to this human rights lawyer, the laws of The Gambia all prohibit the crimes reportedly committed, as heard during the TRRC public hearings, “and it is the duty of the state to prosecute crimes where there is evidence.”
Also, international law, international and regional instruments all require that violations be recognized as crimes and be punished.
Definitely, it is important to have accountability for crimes and human rights violations, so as to prevent revenge crimes in society if victims are denied justice.
Moreover, “whether or not victims reconcile with the perpetrators should not stop the course of justice – when crimes are committed against the state, it has a duty to do something.”
Also, there is the need to send a strong message that impunity is no longer the order of the day in The Gambia!
We must be mindful of the fact that the international community is a stakeholder – it has invested resources, both material and human – in the transitional justice process in Gambia – and is now watching to see what happens next.
Indeed, the common message is: “No to impunity for crimes, particularly serious crimes!”
Actually, not everybody will be prosecuted, only those who bear the greatest responsibility.
Holding perpetrators to account will give confidence to the victims in the justice system.
In any case, there is nothing new in prosecuting the crimes alleged, since the state “does it all the time”!
Thus, post the December 4 presidential election, the goodwill of the new government to deliver justice will be paramount.
“When a crime is committed or a right is violated, there is a duty on the state to pursue the perpetrator, and reconciliation cannot change that”!
Another panelist who is a human rights activist said the “Never Again” goal must be achieved; that a post-Jammeh government was expected to ensure “openness and accountability”.
There is also “the right to truth; and if the whole truth is not told and known, it will be difficult to get full accountability.” Apart from people’s “right to truth”, there is also the “the right to remedy”, among others.
It is important to get the full picture, so as to ensure that the persons responsible are prosecuted in a fair manner.
Letting people walk free will create room for thoughts of revenge, as people remain traumatized.
As for those advocating for justice, they must stick to their principles and, in the longer term, will get justice for the victims, “who must be at the center of everything”.
The importance of having in place a proper accountability mechanism through the country’s Judiciary cannot be overemphasized.
Regarding the query that the forum was convened to speak about a report that was not yet out, the organizers said they were anticipating that the report will recommend action against perpetrators, as required by the TRRC Act, 2017.
They were convinced that prosecution “was a foregone conclusion; without preempting the report”.
The forum was held to talk about how important it is to have accountability; and, the focus of the conference was – After the TRRC report (comes out) – what next?
Accountability is beyond victims; it is about society. And the slogan “Never Again” is to ensure that the culture of impunity will never again find a home in The Gambia.
Again, it was revealed by the forum organizers that already they have engaged in discussions on how to help the Gambia government, to have a roadmap on what follows from the submission of the TRRC report.
After all, the TRRC was established “to bring about justice and accountability, healing and reconciliation among Gambians.”
It is well known that many African countries set up truth commissions, “to hold perpetrators accountable”.
And, as has been said by activists in The Gambia and elsewhere, there cannot be healing and reconciliation without justice first.
Moreover, in all jurisdictions which claim to observe “the rule of law”, it can only have meaning when the laws are applied and enforced without fear or favor, affection or ill will.
In The Gambia, the existing national laws already provide for punishing the crimes unearthed by the TRRC process, should the commission make a finding in its report submitted to the head of state that they were indeed committed by X person in X institution.
Thus, implementing the TRRC’s recommendations to prosecute and punish perpetrators would be the best way to ensure that justice is done!